In 1768, when Captain James Cook set sail on the Endeavour on the first of three voyages to the South Seas, the trip was mainly to record the transit of Venus in Tahiti in 1769. (Wall Street Journal)
However, on this voyage Cook carried with him secret orders from the British Admiralty to seek ‘a Continent or Land of great extent’ and to take possession of that country ‘in the Name of the King of Great Britain’. (State Library, New South Wales)
Cook’s second Pacific voyage (1772-1775) aboard Resolution and Adventure aimed to establish whether there was an inhabited southern continent, and make astronomical observations.
Cook’s third and final voyage (1776-1779) of discovery was an attempt to locate a North-West Passage, an ice-free sea route which linked the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Cook commanded Resolution while Charles Clerke commanded Discovery. (State Library, New South Wales)
Cook had other foreigners on his ships in these voyages. On his third voyage, one, a German, was Heinrich Zimmermann.
Johann Heinrich Zimmermann was born on December 25, 1741 in Wiesloch, just south of Heidelberg in the Palatinate. (King)
“Johann Heinrich Zimmermann and Anna Maria von Beyerthal” are registering the birth of the child “Johann Heinrich”. The child’s sponsor (susciptor) is recorded as “Johann Heinrich Walthi von Maisbach”. The date of birth is written as: “1741 d. 25 te Xbris”. (Captain Cook Society)
Leaving home in 1770, Zimmermann had a variety of jobs around Europe. He had trained as a “Guertler,” the profession of a worker in precious and non-precious metals who made ornaments, jewelry, cutlery including swords, metal tools and implements.
He spent time working at this in Geneva, Lyons and Paris before he arrived in London in 1776 where, after a short period of working in a sugar refinery, he joined the Discovery as an able seaman on March 12 of that year for James Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific. He became the ship’s coxswain (steersman) in July 1776. (King)
As a sailor in the third voyage (1776 to 1779), Zimmermann kept a journal that later became the basis for his account Reise um die Welt, which was translated into English and later published as Account of the Third Voyage of Captain Cook.
Zimmermann’s descriptions of Hawaii sparked an interest in the Sandwich Islands, but he also offered some of the first descriptions of West Coast Indians. (BCBookworld)
Of that journal Zimmermann noted, “I have long been endeavouring to decide whether I should be doing a wrong in making public the observations made by me during our voyage.”
“Then it occurred to me that it was the duty of the crew to give up their papers: that Great Britain, having been at great expense in fitting out and keeping up this exploring expedition, alone had the right to publish the observations of her navigators …”
“… that we had been paid for our services, and that we were therefore bound to yield up to England any notes which we might have kept during our voyage.”
“To all these scruples I have a few remarks to make, and I wish to set forth the reasons which have nevertheless moved me to write down my personal observations.”
“Is it likely that this incomplete record, which comes from the pen of a simple sailor, will ever be compared with the properly accredited narratives to be published in England? And can it prejudice them in any way?”
“Is it not more likely that it is I who will have cause to fear that my book will be unsaleable, will be ignored and neglected, because the world is awaiting the more complete, the more correct narratives written by those who were able to see more than I? Therefore I alone will suffer.” (Zimmermann)
The fame generated by the book led to Zimmermann being appointed in August 1781 by the Prince Elector of Bavaria, Karl Theodor, to the position of “Churfürstlicher Leibschiffmeister” (Master of the Prince Elector’s Ships), where he was responsible for the fleet of hunting and excursion boats on Lake Starnberg. (King)
After returning from that voyage, Zimmermann and George Dixon were recruited for a voyage to the North West Coast of America and round the world on the Imperial and Royal Ship Cobenzell.
The voyage was to be undertaken for Emperor Joseph II by the Imperial Asiatic Society of Trieste, otherwise known as the Triestine Society, a company set up and run by William Bolts for the purpose of carrying out this voyage.
On July 24, 1782, Dixon wrote to Zimmermann from Vienna. “Dear Harry, Yours I Rec‘d, and am glad you have Resolution, like the Honest Sailor which I allways have taken you for, and are willing to be doing sum thing both for your self and the Country.”
“By this time I expect you will be in Trieste, and have seen Mr Walker… As you may be a little mistaking in Regard to the Voyage and its Nature, Mr Walker can give you sum Information and the Remainder, I shall Acquent you with, when I see you which I expect to be shortly. I am, Dear Harry, Yours &ca, Geo. Dixon.”
While the Emperor was initially enthusiastic, the venture eventually proved impossible to realize. The opposition of Bolts’s Belgian financial partners in the Imperial Asiatic Company of Trieste and Antwerp was a principal cause of its not going ahead.
The Emperor also refused to provide financing for it apart from the expenses of his naturalists: in the autumn of 1782 it was abandoned. (King)
Zimmermann had apparently used the time he had spent at Trieste to learn navigation and qualify as a ship’s officer. Likewise, in his account of Cook’s last voyage he had mentioned the willingness of the natives of the North West Coast to engage in trade, consisting mainly on their part of the furs of “beaver” (by which he meant sea otter), sable and seal.
He wrote in his journal: “My plan supposes fitting out two ships of 400 or 500 tons in Europe (with 18 months‘ provisions), which would cost around 8,000 louis d’or, declared ready for sea and to go out on the following System as though going on discovery, making their way around Cape Horn to the Marquesas Islands, there to take on water and refresh the crew.”
“From there they would make their way directly to Owhyee [Hawaii] where the second would stay and stock with provisions and water. From thence to the North West Coast to seek refit on that coast. …”
“In returning engage in trade, the article concerned being sea otter pelts, from my being convinced that it is not idle talk, collecting at least 2,000 in a space of 6 months, as in Kamchatka each would be worth from 30 roubles and the same items can be sent to Okhotsk and from thence to Kiachta on the Chinese border, which is 1,400 miles by land …”
“… from whence the Chinese can gain a good profit by transporting them to Peking which is 700 miles further, and from thence to Japan, which is now inclined to welcome those who go with goods of value to Japan.” (King) That plan was not implemented.
Zimmermann was asked in 1789 to plan a Russian expedition to the Pacific. Although he submitted plans, Russia was then engaged in wars with the Ottoman Empire and with Sweden, and the expedition didn’t happen. It’s not clear if Zimmermann made it back into the Pacific; he did, however, sail to India in the 1780s.
In 1791-1792 he again took a ship, the Edward, to India for Edouard de Walckiers. The advent of war with revolutionary France put an end to the trade with India from the Austrian Netherlands, and Zimmermann returned to Munich. He retired to Starnberg in 1804 and died there on May 3, 1805. (King)